Faith in the resurrection of our Lord is central to the Christian Faith. Everything about the Christian Faith stands or falls with belief in the resurrection of Christ. If Christ were not resurrected, then we cannot proclaim Him as Lord and we cannot accept His teachings without doubt and compromise. Because He has been raised from the dead by the Father, we can believe all that Jesus said, taught and did as coming from God.
However, this central doctrine of the Church’s faith is always under challenge. If many cannot accept the Christian Faith and Christ as the Son of God and their savior, it is understandable because they have not yet encountered the Lord as risen in their lives. Without faith in the resurrection, Jesus remains just a prophet and a good teacher at most, but certainly not God to be worshipped and be given full submission of faith. Yet, we can understand why many find the resurrection of our Lord difficult to accept. In the first place, not all have seen the Lord. St Paul wrote, “He appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time.” (1 Cor 15:4f)
Furthermore, the resurrected Lord does not manifest Himself exactly the same way as the Jesus of Nazareth because He is transformed. Indeed, the gospel said that He showed Himself to His disciples in different forms. “After this, he showed himself under another form to two of them as they were on their way into the country.” It appears that the transfigured Lord could appear in different ways. His resurrected body transcends human imagination and space and time. He could walk through walls to the room where the disciples were, appear and disappear at will when He was at Emmaus. So the resurrected Lord is beyond conception.
But beyond these reasonable
doubts about the resurrection of our Lord, some have questions about the resurrection, not because of intellectual doubt but because of incredulity and obstinacy. Jesus “reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.” The apostles, even though they had testimonies from the women and the two disciples at Emmaus that Jesus was alive, refused to believe. What could be the reasons? Perhaps, they really thought that Jesus was dead because of their cowardice and betrayal. They could not come to terms that they had killed the Lord, or they were afraid to meet their master again because of shame. Their mental block was not of the intellect but an emotional blockage. Indeed, we are told that they did not believe until the Lord appeared to them and said to them, “Peace be with you” forgiving them for their abandonment of Him to death.
For the Jewish leaders, they too did not believe in Jesus because of obstinacy. They were not ready to admit that they were wrong about Jesus and most of all, for causing His death. They could not accept their responsibility for putting an innocent man to death. They wanted to be seen right in the eyes of the people. To admit that Jesus was the Christ would mean that they had to compromise their position in society as well. They had too much to lose in accepting Jesus as the Messiah. However, the preaching and claims of the apostles embarrassed them and made them lose credibility with the people. Yet, at the same time, they could not contradict the fact that the crippled man was healed and according to the apostles, it was done so in the name of the man they crucified and whom God raised from the dead. (cf Acts 4:8-10) So they had to find ways to silence the truth and the apostles’ proclamation to preserve their self-interests. They were stubborn in admitting their faults.
Furthermore, they saw the transformation of the apostles. “The rulers, elders and scribes were astonished at the assurance shown by Peter and John, considering they were uneducated laymen.” From weak, uneducated and fearful men, they became self-assured and confident before the Sanhedrin, a group of educated men. They were no longer timid or lacking self-confidence. They spoke with conviction and without fear of anyone. That is why their rejection of the message of the apostles went against reason. It was not because the resurrection of our Lord was incredulous, but because they had too much to lose. They could not give in to the apostles’ claim for fear of being stripped of their powers and security. It was pure obstinacy, pride and selfishness.
Indeed, they were in a dilemma. “The Sanhedrin had a private discussion. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘It is obvious to everybody in Jerusalem that a miracle has been worked through them in public, and we cannot deny it. But to stop the whole thing spreading any further among the people, let us caution them never to speak to anyone in this name again.” Three times they warned the disciples not to speak about Jesus. “So they called them in and gave them a warning on no account to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus. The court repeated the warnings and then released them; they could not think of any way to punish them, since all the people were giving glory to God for what had happened.” Instead of recognizing the truth, they silenced the truth. This is what the world is seeking to do today.
Today, we can no longer speak about our faith and our beliefs openly, because those who do not believe in Christ will object to what we say, our claims and our beliefs. They will judge us to be discriminating and lacking respect for others. We are now therefore permitted only to say things and make claims that others agree with. Otherwise, we would be accused of superiority and triumphalism. We have to say that our religion is just like the others and no better than theirs. We cannot claim Christ to be the unique savior of the world because some might judge us to be making a sweeping statement and denigrating their own beliefs. Could we say with the same conviction and courage that the apostles made, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”? (Acts 4:12)
Why was the command of the Sanhedrin not able to deter the disciples from speaking about Jesus? “Peter and John retorted, ‘You must judge whether in God’s eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God. We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.” Having encountered the Risen Lord and seeing Him at work in their lives, they cannot but do what He did when He was on earth, fulfilling His promise to His disciples that “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12) With such a deep experience of His power at work in their lives, it can only prove that Jesus is truly alive in the Spirit.
This was equally true of the women who encountered the Risen Lord and the two disciples on their way to the countryside. When they saw the Lord in their own ways, they knew for certain that was the Risen Lord. They were convicted and in turn went to tell the rest. Eventually, when the Eleven also saw the Lord, they too became His witnesses. The Lord said to them, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” When we have a deep encounter with the Risen Lord, nothing can hold us back. Not only are our lives transformed but we will have a deep desire to announce Jesus as the Good News, the Saviour of all humanity.
How, then, can we encounter the Risen Lord and find the same strength and conviction? We are told that they were “associates of Jesus.” We need to walk with Jesus like the apostles before we could encounter Him in His resurrection. We need to know the Jesus of Nazareth through our contemplation of His humanity in the gospels so that we can recognize His Risen presence in our midst in the world today. Spending time with Jesus in intimacy is the key.
Indeed, this was the case of Mary of Magdala as well. She was so devoted to Jesus and so in love with Him and therefore was rewarded with the grace to see the Risen Lord before the apostles. She knew the Jesus of Nazareth and how He delivered her from the seven devils. So, too, the disciples on their way to the country. They were downcast because they had great hopes in the Lord. Jesus, the Risen Lord, appears to those who want to see Him and are receptive to His love. If we want to see the Lord, then we too must be His constant companions and be His associates in prayer, in study and in fellowship.